Sure Kentucky fried chicken tastes finger-licking good but every once in a while some easy homemade wings are all we want. They are inexpensive, you could have as much, plus you get to experiment with your favorite signature spices for that extra kick.
Perhaps you’ve had a failed attempt(s) at making chicken wings and no longer even try. Either they dry out too much or don’t taste as good, so it’s almost pointless, to say the least. May we suggest one crucial step that might be a game-changer – brining.
Yes. Chicken wing brine. It’s an extra step that demands more preparation time, but the results (as you’re about to see) are certainly worth it.
Let’s Define What a Brine is
Simply put, this is a salt and water mixture. These are the two cornerstone ingredients that make up a brine solution, but it doesn’t end here.
When combining salt and water, the ratios differ depending on how concentrated you’d like the mixture to be. Milder versions demand lesser salt and vice versa. But as a standard rule, some people find 1:16 to be the best salt-to-water ratio.
However, depending on the type of salt you use, this number may change. For instance, table salt is heavier than kosher salt because it has a better crystal resolution. The brine created from table salt may be excessively strong for the same measures dissolved in the same quantity of water. This conundrum is what makes it challenging to apply a single constant ratio everywhere.
As you consider that, keep in mind that you may add anything you choose, despite the fact that brine relies primarily on two components. In truth, the list typically includes an additional 5–6 items. What tastes you want to add and how much risk you’re ready to take will simply determine how you go.
Why Do We Brine Chicken Wings?
It’s no surprise that you can quickly sprinkle some seasoning/dry rub over your wings, throw them onto the grill and get a flavorsome delight. So why bother with the extra step? And does it make that big of a difference?
The answer is yes. The whole point of brining is to plump your wings with some extra juiciness. Through osmosis, the salty mixture infuses into the meat thereby causing a greater moisture accumulation than when not brined at all. So when it comes to cooking, despite the unavoidable water loss, there is still a sufficient amount of humidity sealed in.
If you have fallen prey to dried-out wings that are hard to chew on, it might be that you ignored this very important step.
The second reason why we brine wings is to tenderize the meat. Muscle fibers are naturally tough and being that wings are not as fleshy, it’s a recipe for disaster when nothing is done to soften this cut. Salt particularly does a great job at this and it explains why even dry brining still works. The looser the fibers get the easier to cut and chew.
As a bonus, brining promotes caramelizing of the skin thanks to sugar. The crispy, golden bark found on BBQ dishes is owed to the Maillard reaction which wouldn’t possibly take place without breaking down sugar particles. Also, sugar balances the salt such that it doesn’t become overwhelming.
As far as flavor goes, you can bet that the more the ingredients, the richer the taste. Spices do not necessarily affect texture or water levels, but they contribute to the overall zest, which is something worth paying attention to.
Now brining can have a few exceptions. You don’t need to do it for slow cooking methods such as braising or baking because there’s ample time for the protein to break down. But for BBQ dishes or those that require contact with open fire, you run higher risks of drying out the bird too much. That implies you may get away with this time-consuming step if you choose the low and slow way.
Everything You Need for Chicken Wing Brine
As mentioned earlier, you can stretch the ingredients for your brine as far and wide as long as you know your way around it. And just to prove this, here are some great ideas;
- Kosher salt
- Granulated sugar
- Soy Sauce
- Optional seasonings: black pepper, oregano, garlic, thyme, rosemary
- Large bowl
Some people like to switch things up by replacing water with beer, fruit juice, or wine and this is not off the table. However, too much could end up stripping away a lot of the original flavor in the chicken and become overpowering. So if you choose to experiment with anything other than water, just make sure you know what you’re doing.
How to Brine Chicken Wings?
Both the chicken and brine have to be prepared before anything. Pull out the wings in good time in case they need to thaw, and chop them up into smaller pieces as you gather the ingredients from your pantry.
Prepare the Brine
For this, it’s advisable to use warm water or heat the mixture for a few minutes. It helps to break down the solid particles so that everything integrates better. Give it a good stir and let it cool down.
Pro-tip, letting the brine sit overnight in the refrigerator is effective to bring out a homogenous solution. If you don’t have the time, you could prepare the brine on the go but planning in advance will enable you to accommodate this step.
Add the Chicken
It’s now time to slide in the wings. Double-check that the brine is enough to have the wings completely submerged as opposed to partially covered. A 3-inch mark above where the wings sit is a good target. And for this, you will need a bowl big enough to fit everything.
In case you don’t have one, vacuum seal bags could also work. Pour in a good amount and add a wing or two before locking.
The thing with wings is you do not need to marinate for very long. About 2 hours for skinless cuts and 4 hours for normal wings is a good time. If you overly extend the duration, you might end up with very soggy wings that equally taste too salty.
Prepare it for Cooking
Once the wings are done soaking, the next thing is to drain the brine and rinse the wings. Pat them down with paper towels until dry. You may find it counterproductive to rinse all that yumminess away but the needed spiciness is already in the meat.
Again, without drying the wings, the moisture will work averse to caramelizing. Remember we want a crisp bark and for this, the surface needs to be dry, or else the chicken will only end up steaming.
Before you can throw these babies to the grill, rub on some final seasoning or favorite rub, and then get to barbecuing.
Cook the Chicken
Here we are! You’re free to bake, air fry, grill, or even deep fry the wings. Whatever floats your boat. Air frying especially is a smart way to char the wings without the problem of excess oil. But grilling is a personal favorite that will have everyone asking for more.
Watch out for grease fires and be quick to flip the sides so that nothing gets burnt. And while at it, use a digital probe to read internal temperatures.
With or Without Sauce?
This is yet another area where your personal preference will take the lead. Roasted wings are scrumptious even without the help of dips and sauces so if this works for you, go for it.
However, if you’re a sauce junkie nothing is stopping you from drizzling a generous coating over your chicken wings. Texas BBQ sauce or some hot teriyaki sauce are great ideas, and not to forget the all-time honey sriracha sauce.
For DIY enthusiasts, get creative and make your own sauce topping from scratch. Ingredients like mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard work excellently with BBQ chicken.
Favorite Chicken Brine Recipe
We singled out this easy-to-follow recipe that will have you enjoying unparalleled chicken wings. For the ingredients;
- 1/3 cup table salt (or 1/2 cup kosher salt)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 6 cups of cold water
- 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons white pepper
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3 pounds of chicken wings
Start by dissolving the salt and sugar in water. Proceed to mix the red pepper flakes in vinegar and stir before pouring this into the first solution.
Next, add the white and black pepper and whisk thoroughly. Transfer the brine into a bowl, cover with clear foil and allow to sit overnight.
Take it out the next day and immerse your chicken wings inside. Set a timer between 2- 4 hours before removing the wings from the solution into a fresh bowl. Rinse well and dry off the excess fluids.
If by chance you mistakenly allowed your wings to over brine, do not panic. Pour fresh water into a container and place the chicken in for a while. It takes care of the saltiness and restores the right balance.
All that’s left is to cook and for this recipe, a BBQ roast is a perfect method. Plate up your wings alongside a few lemon slices, parsley garnish, and voila! You’re ready to dig in.
There you have it! The perfect recipe for brined chicken wings. Try it the next time you think of having homemade chicken and taste the difference.
Related: How to Reheat Chicken Wings for the Best Flavor, Crispiness, and Sauciness